Class Notes Summer 2024


Wat Misaka

Wat Misaka BS’48 is the subject of a new picture book, Wat Kept Playing: The Inspiring Story of Wataru Misaka and His Rise to the NBA, by family member Emily Inouye Huey. Misaka broke the color barrier in pro basketball, despite being only 5-foot-7 and playing at a time when many of his fellow Japanese Americans were locked up in internment camps and racism was being used as a policy tool. 

Art Scott BS’49 and Jim King BA’51 have been friends for 90 years and counting, since meeting on the first day of kindergarten at the Stewart School on the U’s campus when they were five years old. Both went on to attend the U, married in Salt Lake, raised children here, and spent the majority of their careers here, Scott at Utah Power for 10 years and then as an aeronautical engineer at Hercules for 29, while King was a professor at the U for three decades. The two have traveled together with friends and family many times. During a trip to Alaska, they attended a salmon fry at a baseball game that started at 11 p.m. on the longest day of the year, so the stadium never had to turn its lights on. In their 50s, they trekked for four days across the Grand Canyon. A year later, they hiked the 42-mile Teton Crest Trail. King has continued hiking into his 90s, and Scott still walks a mile a day.


Adam Rose  BA’70, who journeyed from a post-WWII German displaced persons camp to a prolific career in academia, established the Adam Rose Family Scholarship for Refugee Students in the U’s Department of Economics, honoring the professors who inspired him and the Salt Lake community that welcomed his family in 1951. 


Akhlesh Lakhtakia

Akhlesh Lakhtakia MS’81 PhD’83 is winner of the 2024 SPIE Gold Medal, which he received for his research on electromagnetic fields in complex materials. Lakhtakia is a professor at Penn State University and is widely recognized for his groundbreaking research on nanotechnology and on the behavior of electromagnetic fields and waves in complex materials. In 2007, he was recognized by U Alumni as a Founders Day Distinguished Alumnus.




Lori Labrum

Lori Labrum BS’89 is the new transit market sector leader at TranSystems, which plans, designs, and oversees construction to enhance transportation networks and infrastructure. Labrum joined the company about a year ago as senior vice president and west transit market and national bus-rapid transit (BRT) leader. With over 30 years of experience, she’s played a pivotal role in planning and designing over 200 miles of BRT systems, overseeing key projects in Utah and Houston.


Jeffery McFarland JD’91 is a partner in the litigation group of Eisner, LLP, representing entertainment industry clients in high-profile, high-stakes business disputes. He was previously a principal in the Los Angeles office of McKool Smith. McFarland has also practiced at Am Law 200 firms and served as the co-chair of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan’s national media and entertainment practice. 

Kirk Tanner

Kirk Tanner BS’92 is the new president and chief executive officer of Wendy’s. He was previously CEO of PepsiCo Beverages North America, with a career at PepsiCo spanning more than three decades. Tanner is a member of the advisory board of the U’s David Eccles School of Business.

Bassam Salem

Bassam Salem BS’93 MS’95 MBA’99 MPL’04 is founder and currently general manager of AtlasRTX, a conversational AI engagement platform. He also founded the startup consultancy Mindshare Ventures and previously served as COO of MaritzCX, among other tech leadership roles. Salem emigrated to the United States at age 13 and began programming professionally at 16. He is a member of the U’s Board of Trustees.


Courtney White MPA’00 was selected as interim president of Utah Tech University early this year. He had most recently served as chief of staff and associate vice president of executive affairs for the university. Previously, White worked as assistant commissioner for policy & planning at the Utah System of Higher Education.

Nicole Walker MFA’01 PhD’06, Erik Sather BA’03, and former University of Utah visiting professor Robin Hemley worked with director David Shields on the film How We Got Here, which was recently selected for the Golden State Film Festival. In the new documentary, diverse voices trace the history of postmodernism from its roots in art and philosophy all the way to Fox News and Q-Anon. Walker is an essayist, poet, and MFA Program director at Northern Arizona University. Sather presently works in television services with the marketing and communications team at NAU. Hemley is the author of 15 books and currently co-directs the MFA in creative writing at Long Island University-Brooklyn, among other roles. 

Sui Lang L. Panoke

Sui Lang L. Panoke BS’03 is senior vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Zions Bank. She is also the founder of Rethink International, Hardware Creative Collective, Rethink Tank, and Women Politics Media. Panoke was a panelist for the U’s 2024 MLK Economic Plenary, where experts delved into critical issues surrounding economic disparities and strategies for fostering greater equity in our society.

Alex Smith BS’04 was named to the 2024 College Football Hall of Fame class, becoming the first U player and one of only two Utes to be inducted, joining former head coach Ike Armstrong, in the class of 1957. Smith still holds the U record for single-season touchdown passes with 32 and total touchdowns in a season with 42. In 2004, he earned first-team All-American, was a Heisman Trophy Finalist, and was named National Player of the Year by Sports Illustrated. He capped off his Utah career as MVP at the Fiesta Bowl (where he set the bowl record for touchdown passes, with four) before going to the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick. Smith was an NFL quarterback for 16 seasons, earning Pro Bowl invitations three times and making an astonishing return from a life-threatening injury before retiring in 2021. Out of about 5.6 million former college football players, just over 1,000 are in the Hall of Fame. Smith is now an NFL analyst for ESPN. 

David Hawkins-Jacinto

David Hawkins-Jacinto PhD’08 is the new executive director of strategic communication with the University of Virginia Office of Student Affairs. Hawkins-Jacinto spent nearly a quarter century at the U—as a student, professor, and staff member, most recently as senior communications manager for Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion. He was core faculty in the Department of Writing & Rhetoric Studies (WRS) from 2006-22, teaching dozens of different classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and designing innovative new courses such as Body Rhetorics. He received two Excellence in Teaching awards from WRS and was honored in 2022 with the Department Chair’s Award 


Marcela Torres BFA’15, an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and organizer, champions personal and community healing through practices rooted in Mesoamerican traditions and responses to colonialism/diaspora. In 2023, Torres, who uses they/them pronouns, earned recognition from the Illinois Arts Council and engaged systems-impacted youth in Brooklyn, crafting performances and installations that interrogate local histories. They combine martial arts, dance, pottery-making, and more to create interactive, immersive experiences aimed at addressing colonization’s intergenerational trauma. With home bases in Chicago and New York City, Torres has shared their reparative vision nationwide and held residencies at notable art centers and sculpture parks.

Lisa Fay Coutley PhD’14 has published a new book of raw, lyrical poems, Host, which explores parasitic relationships and asks: how can people heal from intergenerational trauma—and how can humans mend themselves when they live on a planet they abuse daily? With a degree in English and creative writing, Coutley is also the author of tether, Errata, In the Carnival of Breathing, and Small Girl: Micromemoirs, and is the editor of In the Tempered Dark: Contemporary Poets Transcending Elegy.

Blake Van Zile JD’15 is an attorney with Chenoweth Law Group. Van Zile has grown a business, real estate, and general civil litigation practice representing businesses, financial institutions, commercial landlords, and individuals, as well as handling partnership disputes, enforcement proceedings, breach of contract, and business tort claims in Washington and Oregon state, federal, and appellate courts. Van Zile also negotiates and consummates commercial transactions and maintains an expanding general business counsel practice.

Noble Williamson HBS’18 recently rejoined the U as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Mathematics with an enthusiasm for making algebraic geometry accessible to students. With a fresh doctorate from UC Riverside, he brings innovative combinatorial and computational methods to his teaching. Noble’s commitment to mentorship, honed during the unique challenges of the pandemic, promises to enrich Utah’s mathematics department.


Margaret Wolf

Margaret Wolf  MS’20 was named interim assistant director of the Idaho Water Resource Research Institute. In her doctoral studies at the U, Wolf has studied how subsurface stored water in mountain environments interacts with surface water supply to control streamflow efficiency in the Upper Colorado River Basin and the Great Basin. She says, “I am passionate about the outdoors and how climate change will impact western water supplies.”

Enrique Sanchez

After five years with a police department, Enrique Sanchez BA’21 became the Intermountain State director for the American Business Immigration Coalition, a bipartisan national organization that promotes immigration reform. In this position, he has had the opportunity to meet with key leaders including President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, President George W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush, members of Congress, and governors.

Mitch Shin

Mitch Shin BA’21 is a chief correspondent covering South Korea and North Korea for The Diplomat, a current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region. Shin is also a Research Fellow at The Institute for Peace & Diplomacy and a regular columnist for The Korea Times. His main research areas are inter-Korean relations, U.S.-DPRK relations, and U.S. policy on North Korea, deterrence, and nonproliferation.

Alison Saporta

Alison Saporta MMU’21 is a vocal mentor for the National Children’s Chorus. She recently performed various operatic roles and was a featured soloist for the Art Song Preservation Society of New York in their Make Music Day concert. This past November, she performed as Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro) and last April, she performed as Laetitia (The Old Maid and the Thief), both with Opera Magnifico. She also performs at synagogues and churches.

Born and raised in the suburbs of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Ruba Alraqibah BS’23 received a scholarship in her home country to come to the U for its biomedical engineering program, ranked among the top 50 in the U.S. During the COVID pandemic, Alraqibah had to return home and Zoom into classes until 3 a.m. due to the 10-hour time difference, but of that difficult time and her time on campus, she says, “I am thankful for the support and guidance I received from professors, advisors, and mentors who strived to create an environment I was able to thrive in.”  She continues, “I made meaningful connections with mentors and leaders that helped shape my views, goals, and vision.” Alraqibah notes that now, “I am very excited to be working as an engineer in a medical device company here in Utah.” 

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